K12, which comprises students from kindergarten to 12th grade, has been one of the biggest sources for edtech platforms in India.
Byju’s, Unacademy, Vedantu, etc, which have catered to this group, were favourites among parents and students alike who were affected by the shutdown of schools across India during the Covid-19 pandemic.
With many edtech platforms citing ‘economic conditions’ and restructuring plans to lay off their workforce respectively, the user experience of edtech platforms might also be a contributing factor to the current dilemma in the sector.
Parents highlight lack of ‘uniqueness’ in edtech’s approach to K12
Priyanka Pani, who enrolled her 11-year-old son in a course by an edtech company during the pandemic, made the decision after ads of the platform appeared on different websites. Though the initial experience was good, Pani believes her son didn’t benefit from the course in the long run.
“The first few classes were good but not for long as my son eventually found them boring,” said Pani, a Public Relations professional in Mumbai.
“Since most of the courses were theory-based and he wasn’t having hands-on experience, we had to eventually discontinue it,” added Priyanka, stating that edtech platforms were not doing anything unique or differently during the pandemic which can help the students continue with the classes.
Though major metropolitan cities have always been a hot market for edtech platforms due to their sheer number of people and capital available in them, tier 1 and tier-2 cities, towns, and villages are not far away from their ambitions.
According to a recent study by Nielsen India called the Bharat 2.0 Internet Study, as of December 2021, India had 646 million active Internet users who were 2 years old and older with mobile phones continuing to be the primary device for all internet usage across sectors in rural India, where there are 352 million users, nearly 20% more than in urban areas.
Dr. Priyanka Soni is one such parent from Gujarat’s Devgadh Baria, who came to know about the courses being offered by edtech platforms to students, who are not attending schools owing to the pandemic.
“We came across a message, on the Whatsapp group which has many parents like us, about a platform offering classes to students online,” said Soni, who spent between 30-35,000 for a year-long course for her son, Aditya, who attended the sessions in his third grade.
“We had an average experience with the online courses as most of them were pre-recorded sessions which were not understandable to my kid,” said Soni, who added that since no one was there to explain sessions on Graphic Designing and Animation, she had to explain it to her son, while also having to do her work. “I felt the courses were a complete waste of money and might not enrol my son in any other online course again,” added Soni.
Financial concerns mar edtech experience for parents
With online courses costing thousands of rupees, paying the fees is no cakewalk for parents with some witnessing the impact of financial woes on their children’s academic future. R. Saravanan is one such father who enrolled his son in a programme by a reputed edtech giant but now wants to opt out of it, if only there’s a way to do that.
“My son joined the online course in June 2022 as a two-year programme and paid an initial amount of Rs. 5,000 from the total fees of 50k, after which I adopted an EMI option for the same. For the last three months, I have been trying to cancel the programme due to financial requirements for medical reasons but there’s no revert from the company on emails or calls,” claims Saravanan, who added that his son has not been attending the sessions for the past three months.
Such concerns resonate on platforms such as Twitter, where many have tweeted about them wanting to cancel their courses with the platform due to some or the reasons.
‘Change your ways,’ say parents
The experiences have led parents to ask others to steer clear of edtech platforms.
“I think edtech platforms need to adopt a different strategy for K12 kids keep them engaged, right now it’s too complex for young minds who will rely on what their school teachers have to say or teach rather than follow a tutor who is explaining things on the screen,” stated Pani.
National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) Books, which are accessed by students from classes I to XII in Hindi, English, and Urdu and have been adopted by schools across India are one of the viable options for other parents rather than classes by edtech platforms.
“I think it would have been a great experience for my son to have a one-to-one interaction at a viable cost with some of the teachers but that wasn’t the case, which is why I believe it’s better to stick to NCERT books for kids who come under K12,” Soni explained.
Broader concerns at play for kin
While the edtech experience during the pandemic was not a sceptical one for all, the adverse effects of online classes remained a matter of concern.
“My sister joined online courses, concerning her school subjects, which went well for her as the sessions aligned with school curricula and were easy to understand but the exposure to the classes for hours was a matter of concern so I am glad that schools reopened,” said Vrushti Shah, who works in a finance firm in Mumbai.
Transition to newer methods of sustaining the edtech model
With a failing demand in online classes, certain edtech unicorns have already shifted their strategies to sustain themselves. Unacademy and Physicswallah are two such companies, who have set up their offline centres in various coaching hubs across India, including Kota in 2022. Vedantu is another platform that opened a ‘hybrid’ coaching centre, in July this year in Muzaffarpur.
Though the online-offline shift speaks volumes about the balancing act being employed by edtech platforms, its impact is yet to come to the fore.
(This is the third of the three part series on the edtech industry brought to you by the Free Press Journal, which delves into different aspects of the sector.)